Realism as portrayed in the plays An Enemy of the People and A Taste of Honey Essay

June 15, 2022 by Essay Writer


Henry James in 1884 stated that, the supreme virtue of fiction is to produce an “air of reality” or an “illusion of life” James like many other writers valued and embraced an aesthetic of realism (Wharton 3). This form of art valued accurate representation of the psychological and material realities of life. Realism came about as a reaction against Romanticism.

Realism presents things as they happen in real life; they often deal with social problems (Seino 4). In contrast to romanticism, where plays are based on emotions and feelings, realism allows the mind to rule over emotions.

The first major realistic play Wright was Henric Ibsen; Ibsen earned the title “the father of realism.” His plays were often controversial as he wrote on subjects that had not been touched before and considered scandalous, for example, in his play Ghosts, he wrote about the indecent topic(at that time)on syphilis this earned him a lot of criticism leading him to respond by writing the play An enemy of the People(Twain para 2).

Some of these realism writers were interested in exploring problems of inequality within the society they were referred to as “social realists.” This paper discusses the different styles of a realism play or drama.


One main characteristic of a realistic play is that they do not have happy endings. In Realistic dramas, the characters employ the use of approximate everyday speech. This style is issued by most modern plays, television shows and movies (Twain para 5).

The realistic play Wrights are not afraid of being a little unrealistic. In the play, An Enemy of the People, Ibsen uses a realistic framework to articulate his ideas on the stage. His character hyper-articulate their ideas to a slightly unrealistic tone, they talk for a very long time about “high minded” ideas in a generally conversational way.

Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People exemplifies the definition of realism by portraying the irrational tendencies carried by the masses. This play portrays Dr. Stockman, who is the protagonist, as a brave man who tries to do the right thing amid extreme social intolerance (Ibsen).

This play shows the realistic nature of the society we live in; it does not only paint the good pictures in our midst but also shows the negative that the society carries. On its part, A Taste of Honey is set in the 1950s British society. It tells a story of a 17-year old working class girl.

Helen, her mother, is presented as a semi prostitute, who leaves her daughter to go and stay with her younger rich boyfriend Peter. Critics have argued that the play is roughly set on her experience.

Many similarities exist between the play An Enemy of the People and Delaney’s play The Taste of Honey. First of all, both plays portray the challenges faced by the society in tackling day to day situations affecting them. Furthermore, the endings in both plays are tragic as expected of most realism plays.

In A Taste of Honey, the play ends by Helen being thrown out by Peter and moves back to stay with Jo her daughter, While Josephine is pregnant with a sailor’s baby who has gone to sea for six months. She is in labor pains but there is no one to help her as Geoff, her gay friend who came to stay with her when her mother moved, has left after being gotten rid by Helen. Helen cannot help her as she has gone drinking.

Similarly, in An Enemy of the People, the play ends with Dr. Stockman claim being refused by his friends and allies. He is taunted as being a lunatic and “an enemy of the people.”

The exposition of the play, An Enemy of the People, informs us that Dr. Stockman is often on the verge of extreme poverty but has been provided with a nice post by his brother who is the burgomaster in the new bath in town.

However, it should be noted that the original idea of the Baths was Dr. Stockman’s. It should also be noted that, the two brothers share very little in common in the sense that while Dr. Stockman adheres to modernism and has liberal views while his brother is a traditionalist.

This two plays can be contrasted in the sense that one of them is a realism while the other is realism or social realism. The two styles should not be confused with each other even though they are slightly similar to each other. In addition, they were formed around the same time.

Social realism depicts racial, social and economic injustices. This kind of movement portrayed the impoverished working class society. In a social realism play, the audiences witness a movement from the objective towards the subjective representation (Seino 4).

The play A Taste of Honey is a representation of a Kitchen Sink realism play, this type of play developed in Britain in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. In this form of art, the protagonists were mostly described as “angry young men,” their works expressed disillusionment and bitterness with post war English society. Delaney’s play was viewed as belonging to this group, especially after its production.

The characters in social realism /kitchen-sink plays are often depicted as the working class, who spend their time drinking and live in rented houses in a northern Britain setting. The play Wright used this to explore social and political issues affecting the post-war Britain; this genre revolutionized the British theatre.

The theme of alienation has been brought out clearly in both this plays. In A Taste of Honey, essentially, Jo has been abandoned by his mother who moves to a new house just before Christmas and lives with his boyfriend (Delaney Act I scene I).

This loneliness leads to Josephine getting pregnant. While in the play, an Enemy of the People, Dr. Stockman is alienated by his allies and friends for taking a different position on the danger caused by the bath from that taken by the town.

In thinking that the community is behind him and proud of him for his discovery, Doctor Stockman is portrayed as being naïve (An Enemy of the People: Analysis and Summary para 5). He overlooks other factors such as the inconvenience and expenses that will be caused to the town by his discovery. The play Wright, Ibsen, lays his point at the end of the play without any fear.

Doctor Stockman says, “I am the strongest in this town” (Ibsen Act v scene 1, 33), he goes further and says, “I am the strongest man in the world” (Ibsen Act v scene 1 34).

One might ask what the meaning of being strong is. He then further explains the meaning of being strong, that “the strongest man in the world is who stands most alone.” His refusal to be silenced in the bath issue makes the entire town to go against him. He calls them, “the most dangerous enemy of the truth and freedom among us.”

Dr. Stockman is in a weak position, but he has gained an individual identity a trait that many of us fail to acquire. He establishes himself in a world full of fools. Most of Ibsen’s protagonists fail to achieve this same thing.


The goal of the play Wright in An Enemy of the People is to criticize the principles of democracy. He argues that, in matters of right and wrong individual superiority matters more than that of the masses which is mostly guided by the self-advancing demagogues.

One fundamental principle of our democratic culture holds that the majority of the people will make the right decision when confronted with a choice. The popularity of music, movies, fashion, etc. is evaluated based on what the majority of people decide to like. Political issues, from a motion at a school board meeting to a presidential election, are guided by decisions on the majority.

Dr. Stockman denounces his community by stating, “The strongest man in the world is the man who stands most alone” sums up his claim (Ibsen Act v, scene 1, 35).

In A Taste of Honey, the play Wright’s aim is to comment on everyday issues relating to race, class and sexual orientation in the 1950s Britain. She successfully uses her characters to highlight these themes. Her work was mostly viewed as a protest against poverty among the working class youth in Britain.

Works Cited

An Enemy of the People: Summary and Analysis. Web.

Delaney, Shelagh. A Taste of Honey, Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers, 1959. Print.

Ibsen, H. An Enemy of the People, 2000. Web.

Seino, T. Realism and Representation of the Working Class in Contemporary British Cinema, 2010. Web.

Twain, M. Theater Through the Ages: Romantism and Realism. Web.

Wharton, E. 2010, Social Realism Class Consciousness in America 1875 – 1920. Web.

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